The morality of influencer eating
March 12, 2018 8:22 AM   Subscribe

An article was linked in a recent FPP which talked about how Instagram "influencers" who post pictures of food feel obligated to say that they eat it all, even though, in some instances, "75% goes in the trash". What faux pas would they be committing or moral lapse would they be admitting if they were honest about not eating some of the food they take pictures of?

Surely it's not the morality of "clean your plate because kids in ____ are starving", is it? But what?
posted by clawsoon to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Contributing to food waste and falsely representing their lifestyle, I'd think. Many of these influencers also take photos of themselves looking slim, so there's an implication that the food depicted regularly interacts with and in some cases contributes to the body depicted.
posted by Selena777 at 8:29 AM on March 12 [13 favorites]

Presumably they are being paid to not just show pictures of the food but to "rep" for the food they are showing. If you say you ate 25% of it, it calls your support of the goodness/tastiness of the food into question. You also become a known as person who throws away food, which is not usually an on-brand sort of message you want to be putting out there. Everyone knows advertising is basically a scam, but the world of influencers and how they push product is less well understood by the average person (due to tech miasma obscuring a clear path to what is going on). It would be saying "This company paid me to show a picture of this food and I took their money and threw most of their product away." It's less about moral lapse and more that saying that sort of thing is not a good look.
posted by jessamyn at 8:31 AM on March 12 [19 favorites]

If you consider breach of contract a moral breach, I'm sure they'd be acting against the spirit of whatever agreement they have with whoever is paying them if they implied the product is literally garbage.
posted by kapers at 8:39 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

Food waste is a serious environmental issue. In terms of climate emissions, for example, global food waste is the equivalent of the third-largest polluting country in the world.
posted by pinochiette at 8:42 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

Oh hey I was just over on the other thread and found your question fascinating! If I may be forgiven for copy-pasting my response from there to here:

I think it may be the same one violated when a book promoter admits they don't read all the books they promote. Or maybe more like the principle that was violated when the vehemently anti-porn Dr. Phil's son married a porn star and Dr. Phil didn't acknowledge the dissonance.

Food blogging is about selling/showcasing a lifestyle or set of habits which culminate in these being their actual meals. If it was only about the pretty pictures, they should call themselves food photographers, not food bloggers.
posted by MiraK at 8:44 AM on March 12 [5 favorites]

I think Bill Maher had a guy on who wrote book about climate change. He said the number on thing people can do as individuals to make a difference is reduce food waste.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:55 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

The way I read it - it's not about a moral principle they're violating but rather that they're selling a fantasy: they you can eat all that beautiful, not very good for you food and still look the way they do. That's basically what they're being paid for. Admitting that they don't eat all the food they photograph would destroy that fantasy.
posted by peacheater at 9:06 AM on March 12 [8 favorites]

they're selling a fantasy... Admitting that they don't eat all the food they photograph would destroy that fantasy.

Kayfabe, kinda?
posted by clawsoon at 9:09 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

Jessamyn has it. It's not a moral lapse, it's the possibility of losing future work if you're not sufficiently enthusiastic about the product you're advertising. No one wants to pay for "this was good but I threw most of it away."
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:10 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]

Women often want to present a perfect life, and that includes perfect ease—not only the ability to be treated to a fabulous food spread but also the ability to enjoy it without consequence (working themselves hard at the gym). It’s easier to forgo than to have to take it out on the treadmill, but working out two hours a day is for us mortals, not the fabulous influencers.
posted by flyingfork at 9:14 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

There's a piece here about the advertising vs "just like you, only prettier and with a perfect life" ... the illusion of these types of adverts is that they aren't advertisements at all. If they throw away the food, the illusion is broken and the efficacy of the "viral" ad is reduced nearly to that of conventional promotion, where we know the food isn't even really edible.
That's my assumption. So much of this promotional life blogging is about the illusion being maintained, riding on the history of bloggers who really actually lived the lives they presented.
posted by zinful at 9:15 AM on March 12 [5 favorites]

In the entertainment industry in general, including social media personalities, it is a tremendous taboo to talk about how much work it takes to maintain the constant lowkey, background level eating disorders to stay in the underweight or low normal BMI range that are presented as “fit”. I normally hate Tina Fey for her misogyny, but there was a bit she did on 30 rock were the young hot intern she used as a scapegoat for all feminist issues offered Liz Lemon diet advice: “just don’t eat“. This was supposed to be a joke, but it’s actually just how that industry works. Things have gotten a little bit better in the last five years or so with the rise of thick and curvy as beauty standards— thanks, Kardashians— but a lot of people who have successful social media brands and certain body types are under constant calorie restriction, like <1200 a day every day, to maintain that look. You can’t do that if you’re eating full plates of gorgeous food all the time. I’m pretty sure I’ve actually read thinkpieces by a food reviewer talking about how eating all of the meals are paid to review puts their career at risk because of weight gain, let me see if I can find it? But generally speaking it is such a huge, huge taboo to talk about the actual amounts of work people need to do to maintain media celebrity bodies, because part of the image being sold as of this is the best and most natural way for humans to look. Whenever any of these people take interview questions talking about their diets, they are almost certainly not allowed to tell the truth. The faux pas they would be committing would be exposing the entire advertising/diet/beauty industry’s taboo on what it really takes to have a certain body type.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:26 AM on March 12 [20 favorites]

... the illusion of these types of adverts is that they aren't advertisements at all.

This is exactly it. The central lie that social media influencers tell is this: "This is my personal account. This is my lifestyle."

Everyone knows that there's some artifice involved, of course. No one thinks that you just happened to set a small bouquet of daffodils next to your mason jar of sweet tea, and then just happened to take a photo while it was perfectly lit. But people still think you actually brewed (and drink) sweet tea, and that you have that rustic farmhouse table.

If you're taking photos of food you don't eat because someone paid you, you're lying by implication. You can say that any audience who expects authenticity from a social media account is naive, and I'd agree, but that doesn't make it less skeevy.

Since I'm commenting anyway, I'm going to note that it's pretty hurtful to assume that all thin women are eating disordered. There are undoubtedly many social media influencers who are starving themselves because it's not their natural or healthy body weight, but it would be nice if we could recognize that without making universal statements that pathologize certain types of bodies.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:10 AM on March 12 [7 favorites]

From my observation of following foodie influencers on Instagram, they all talk about having large, endless appetites because that shows that they love, LOVE food and that they are living their life to the fullest. To do any less would put their public reputation as a food-loving, food-is-a-lifestyle-image at risk.

And on the lifestyle aspect, I think Food Instagrammin' is also influenced by the public misconception that TV hosts like Anthony Bourdain or even food critics just go around everywhere and eat a bunch of great food and never eat the same thing twice and that's all they do all day, everyday.
posted by FJT at 10:13 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

There's a lot to unpack in this one.

I see that article was written in summer 2017, which was shortly after the debut of the rainbow frappuccino. I didn't therefore read it so much as Instagrammers that are hawking green smoothie supplements as the trend of Instagrammers having to be wandering around photographing insanely indulgent (and gross...I tried one) ice cream cones, charcoal-laden ice cream, character macarons, the Armageddon secret menu burger,
and so on and so forth.

So less about eating everything on your plate and more about going and buying food, taking a shot, and then dumping it in the garbage.

Mind you, restaurants are picking up on this. I am finding there are not a few places in Toronto that are all about the 'gram and taste is way secondary. I am okay with this as long as I can identify it in advance.

But beyond that, food photography is a weird, weird world and honestly I assume that a lot of beautiful shots contain non-food in them. So if we're talking about the food shots themselves, I would guess that the most beautifully photographed food isn't even necessarily edible. And if it is, it's still probably 1 of 8 avocadoes you opened that day to get the perfect green for the shot.

But you're selling a lifestyle where everyone is going to have a beautiful day with perfect waves of green decorated by beautiful, uniform almond slices on their toast with no crumbs on the plate, followed by a Sweet Jesus ice cream cone (can I say again...even my children could not make it through more than 5 bites)'s not real. I think a lot of people are aware, but if the idea is that influencers are more authentic than traditional media...ehn.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:23 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]

Food waste is the height of privilege.

There's some sort of mental divide where it's okay to publicly highlight your privilege in that you're eating the food in the first place, but it's considered poor form to highlight the waste.
posted by vignettist at 11:18 AM on March 12

Kayfabe, kinda?

No. Kayfabe is a knowing put-on, a friendly wink to the audience meant to be taken seriously by perhaps only small children. WWF-style Wrestling is a very conscious fantasy that invites and encourages its audience to play along, purely for the joy of hooting and hollering.

This, on the other hand, is not friendly, not a veil intended to be pierced. It's a lie, and intended to be so. It's not in the bloggers' best interests or those of their sponsors for this to come to light, for reasons outlined above.

Kayfabe has intention to entertain and play pretend; What we're talking about is intended to deceive.
posted by bonehead at 11:19 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

There have been a number of really interesting stories about what male stars go through just to do shirtless scenes -- a window for shooting day(s) for the scenes is scheduled months in advance, so they can do a couple months of bulking with multi-hour daily workouts (typically on a pretty in-shape baseline), followed by an absolutely brutal cut for several weeks.
posted by MattD at 11:44 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]

Instagram: the return of subtlety
posted by clew at 1:01 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]

Agree it is not an individual moral lapse, just another symptom of the bigger badder socio-economic ones that make it popular. Premium Mediocre may have something for you: food that Instagrams better than it tastes.
posted by this-apoptosis at 4:12 AM on March 13

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